Monday, April 14, 2008

Canada flexes imperial muscle - again

Various news agencies are reporting on Maxime Bernier's rather impolitic effort to have Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khalid removed from his post. Though Bernier quickly took back his comments, the request is not out of character for the Canadian mission.

Not calling for Afghan governor's removal, Bernier clarifies

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, April 14 - Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said Monday the governor of Kandahar province needed to be replaced to curb corruption in the region, but withdrew his remarks hours later. ...

Asked what Karzai could do about corruption around the southern Afghanistan city, Bernier said: "As you know, there is always the question of the governor here.

"I think [Karzai] can work with us to be sure the governor will be more powerful, the governor will do what he has to do to help us," he said. "There's a question to maybe have a new governor.

"Is it the right person at the right place at the right time? President [Hamid] Karzai will have to answer these questions as soon as possible."

Shortly after Bernier made the comments in both English and French, members of his staff admitted it was not something Bernier should have said.

Hours later, the minster issued a clarifying statement. ... (link)

Governor Khalid is the man who was recently accused of torturing prisoners, prompting outrage in Canada. The outrage was met with denials by Canadian government and military officials. Bernier's comments are perhaps a tacit admission that the accusations are credible.

It is important to recall that Canada is making a habit of meddling in Afghan internal affairs. To review:

It was Canada who suggested the appointment of a "super envoy" to Afghanistan to coordinate UN and NATO efforts there. Originally, the post was to be filled by Britain's Lord Ashdown, but President Karzai pointedly rejected him. Eventually, the Norwegian Kai Eide, seen to be much less of a take-charge kind of guy, got the job.

The Canadian military wrote words for Karzai to mouth when he visited Parliament in September of 2006. A Canadian Forces document spells it out:
Team prepared initial draft of president's address to Parliament 22 Sep(tember). It was noted that key statistics, messages, themes, as well as overall structure, were adopted by the president in his remarks ...
Also, we must not forget Canada's Strategic Advisory Teams embedded in Afghan government ministries. According to one veteran defense journalist the SAT's, a brainchild of General Hillier, are a "unique project – well beyond the normal realm of military operations".

The meddling doesn't stop there. From the Toronto Star:
The police chief in Zhari district is on his way out, in part because of Canadian complaints about his performance.

"He was probably more part of the problem than the solution," [Canadian Colonel] Juneau said.

There is, however, a limit to Canada's willingness to stick its nose in Afghan politics. When the Afghan government executed 15 prisoners last fall, Canadian diplomats were at pains to criticize the Karzai government, citing a reluctance to "interfere". The Dutch, on the other hand, called the executions "extremely unwelcome".

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